By Ralph Nader
July 10, 2019
I’ve always been fascinated by stamina. Lou Gehrig was my boyhood hero, and not just because of his batting average, clutch hitting, and dignified comportment. From 1925 to 1939 he played 2,130 ballgames in a row, not missing one, despite injuries and illnesses. (It was the record until eclipsed by the Baltimore Oriole’s formidable Cal Ripken in 1987).
Stamina by underdogs over great odds in various areas of lawful human endeavor is engrossing because of all the elements in its making. Focus, determination, resilience, skill, self-renewal, strategy and, at its best, reflective idealism.
Who isn’t fascinated by bee hives, ant colonies, birds and squirrels dutifully building nests, and the sheer alert stamina required of mammals raising their young during constant peril?
This background provides context for contemplating the end of radio’s John Sterling’s record announcing 5,060 straight New York Yankees baseball games without missing one. Since 1989, whether ill or injured, Sterling showed up every day in city after city to command the airwaves and perform his duties. He was undaunted by fatigue or repetition.
As an unreconstructed Yankee fan (from the days of Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle), I did not know about Sterling’s dedication. In between articles on contract negotiations, player trades injuries and modest misbehaviors, the New York Times finally reported this stunning streak of stamina.
It took a bout of exhaustion and his physician’s advice to convince Sterling to take some days off, sleep a lot, eat a little more to recover weight, and drink a gallon of water every day. “I’m just run down,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” the 81 year old radio marathoner told the Times.
Sterling’s record could be more unbreakable than Joe DiMaggio’s still standing 56 game hitting streak.
For five years in the nineteen eighties, the amazing Sterling broadcast both the Atlanta Braves baseball games and the Atlanta Hawks basketball games.
For a game with so many tedious intervals between pitches and innings, Sterling and his co-anchor Suzyn Waldman, make baseball more interesting with their banter, humor, and player vignettes. Sterling has been a unique voice in baseball, calling home runs with rhyming ditties on the hitters’ names and, of course, his breathless game-ending call when “Theeeeeeeeeee Yankeeees Wiin.” For her part, Suzyn keeps tediously reporting the pitch counts and pitch speeds, over batting averages.
The Times wrote that Sterling was going to use his time-off to catch up with a pile of mail, too long ignored. I can resonate with that chore. Neither John nor Suzyn chose to respond to my letter in 2012 regarding the non-stop, irritating, in-play advertising that takes the spirit out of exciting plays. I expressed my sympathy for their having to read these blizzards of ads that interrupt their peak narrative. Such as “Judge’s homerun is brought to you by Kia,” or “this consultation at the mound brought to you” by some law firm. Yeah, sure.
There was no in-play commercial corrosion when their famous predecessor, Mel Allen, used to call the Yankee games on radio. Ballantine Ale, a major sponsor, was promoted only between innings.
In my letter to the heads of the Yankees and Major League Baseball, including former Yankee manager, Joe Torre, I included a detailed listing of these interruptive in-play ads for one whole ball game. Maddening. Why would advertisers want to turn off so many fans?
None of my letters were accorded a response, or even a courteous acknowledgement. (The Times did briefly write up this story).
The Yankee baseball corporation, a corporate welfare king by virtue of its stadium and other tax breaks has been, alas, both censorious and very sensitive to criticism. Recently, John and Suzyn interviewed New York Times sports reporter Bob Klapisch during a ball game. Klapisch is the author of the recently released book Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees. It seemed to be a friendly narrative.
All three were gushing about the genius of long-time Yankee manager Brian Cashman for his brilliant trades that have led to the Yankee’s first place standing in their Division, despite a dozen or more injuries to their starters. Unmentioned were the disastrous and very expensive trades over many years that turned out to be bad deals – getting over-the-hill stars, for instance, by trading away their talented young farm team players plus gobs of cash from Cashman.
For over a decade, Cashman wrecked the celebrated Yankee minor league farm teams that had brought forth the great players like Yogi Berra and Derek Jeter, who won more World Series than any other team. Year after year, under Cashman, the Yankees’ registered failure after failure, despite their superior cash hoard, due mostly to “bad deals” Brian. The one silver lining is that he has proven to both fans and major league baseball that the biggest treasury no longer gets the biggest victories. That was always the “knock” on the Yankees of yore from historic rivals like the Boston Red Sox, still smarting over the sale in 1920 of the great young pitcher – hitter, Babe Ruth to build the dreaded “Bronx Bombers.”
Friends often joke about my rooting for the New York Yankee imperialists– especially during the long period of corporate ownership by loud George Steinbrenner, a jolting, edgy personality whom Donald J. Trump must have studied carefully.
My response: there are some loyalties absorbed by four year old boys that never go away.